Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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29 Adar II 5760 - April 5, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Piecing the Picture of Lebanon After Israeli Withdrawal

by M. Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

Now that talks with Syria on a permanent settlement have broken down -- and even prime minister Barak has admitted that he sees no chance of renewed talks anytime soon -- the parties in the region are moving ahead on implementing the Israeli withdrawal within the next three months. Israel plans to make the move as an implementation of Security Council Resolution 425, originally passed in March 1978. Doing so will, it hopes, bring in a UN peacekeeping force, and also bring in its wake international support for any subsequent Israeli moves that are necessary to keep things quiet on its northern front.

Lebanon has indicated repeatedly that it has no plans to cooperate with Israel's withdrawal, and Syria has made no clear statements on the matter.

The South Lebanon Army (SLA) is also an important factor. Rumors have suggested that they will leave south Lebanon for Israel or for a European country. However, on Monday South Lebanese Army commander Gen. Antoine Lahad said that his militia will continue to operate after the IDF pulls out of south Lebanon.

The fighters of the SLA are native residents of the region and have no wish to leave, according to Gen. Lahad. He said that no one had consulted them about their plans for the future after an Israeli withdrawal, and they want to stay. As indigenous Lebanese, their presence is in conformity with UN resolutions that call the all foreign troops to leave Lebanon.

"My organization and myself, as well as the residents of the zone, will continue to live in the border region even in the event of a unilateral Israeli withdrawal," Lahad said.

"We have no quarrels with Israel, which for its own reasons wants to leave Lebanon. If Israel wants to withdraw without ensuring peace and security in the north then it is an internal Israeli problem. But we will protect our interests and defend ourselves from any aggressors," Lahad said.

Arab leaders, including Lebanese leaders, the Hizbullah and even Arab members of Knesset, have called the SLA fighters traitors to the Arabs and have threatened them with punishment. The Lebanese government has even passed a death sentence on some SLA members. "The only thing left for us is to defend ourselves," Lahad said bitterly.

An IDF spokesman said that Israel did not expect the SLA soldiers to join Hizbullah or otherwise turn against Israel. Observers expressed skepticism about the SLA's ability to hold its ground without strong support from Israel. "The entire Israeli public appreciates the efforts of the SLA and sees them as Lebanese patriots fighting for their rights to living in the sovereign state of Lebanon," said an official Israeli government statement.

Likud MK Ayoub Kara, with the backing of his party, called on Barak to give autonomy to the SLA in the areas they control. This, said Kara, should be done with the full backup of Israeli troops.

In Europe, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the French government are working to adjust Security Council Resolution 425 to provide a current basis for the deployment of international peacekeeping forces in South Lebanon after the IDF withdraws.

Foreign Minister David Levy met in Geneva with Annan telling him that the withdrawal will comply with Resolution 425, and asking for international cooperation in determining the northern border, and also that for a mechanism to be put in place which would forestall a violent escalation in Lebanon after the IDF's departure.

Israel is trying to win international support for its present and future polices in the North, in particular for retaliatory measures it may take in response to violence against residents of the Galilee.

Israel Foreign Ministry officials believe that the UN's decision to update the long-standing 425 resolution and provide a new mandate for the international peacekeeping force would be in Israel's interest.

Yet officials in Jerusalem suspect that Syria will try to thwart a bid to deploy a new international force in Lebanon, fearing that it might undermine its authority in Lebanon. The Israeli officials believe that during the next meeting of Arab foreign ministers, Syria will try to mobilize a pan-Arab front to block any such move to deploy new peacekeepers in South Lebanon.

Before he left for Switzerland, Levy met with the U.S. and French ambassadors to Israel, Martin Indyk and Jacques Hunzinger.

Two alternatives have been discussed for the international force that would be deployed in south Lebanon after the IDF pullout: 1] Continued presence of UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) troops, which have been stationed in Lebanon since 1978, in new positions along the Israel-Lebanon border. UNIFIL today has 4,500 soldiers from nine countries (France, Fiji, Finland, Ghana, India, Ireland, Italy, Nepal and Poland); its mandate is extended every six months by UN Security Council decisions. 2] Dismantling of UNIFIL and establishing a new peacekeeping force not under the UN. The new force could possibly be controlled by the European Union; and it would rely heavily upon French involvement, in accord with President Jacques Chirac's vow that France would play a part in new security arrangements in Lebanon.

In view of France's heavy (and heavy-handed) tilt toward the Arabs, Israel will probably insist on the first of these two options, partly because of strong U.S. influence in the UN. Israeli officials also believe that France itself prefers the UNIFIL option.

Prime minister said on Monday that the deployment of the current UNIFIL contingent, under the auspices of the Security Council, could suffice "to solve the problem" left by an IDF withdrawal from the security strip.

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